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A locally-run educational, development and welfare project in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

The project was founded in 1983 when Peter East, a youth worker for 16 years with the Bangladeshi community in the East End of London, moved to Sylhet. There he met Harun Ahmed, a local businessman and the leading figure in Khasdobir, a cluster of villages, with a population of about 30,000, on the outskirts of Sylhet town. Together they started a small project, aiming to bring education and skills training to the people of the village. Peter East returned from Sylhet in 1988 and since then the project has been entirely run by local people. Harun Ahmed died in 1997, after a lengthy illness. The President of KYAG is now Mr Kabir Ahmed, a retired civil servant.

Believing that education is the essential prerequisite for long-term community development, KYAG's first concern was the number of children who were receiving no schooling of any kind. Although primary education is free and compulsory children have to pass a test to get in to school, and for children whose parents are illiterate that is an impossible hurdle.
KYAG, therefore, initiated open-air schools preparing children from the poorest families for entry to primary school. Currently there are 10 of these Schools Under The Sky, with a total of some 600 children. Over the years many thousands of children have been enabled to receive a basic schooling that they would never otherwise have had.

A few of these children qualify to go on to high school, but then there are school fees and exam fees to be paid - impossible for these desperately poor families. KYAG is currently paying the fees for 74 male and 79 female students. Wealthier children receive coaching at home from students earning their way through college - something obviously not possible for poor families. KYAG has therefore started a coaching class in English and Maths, which is currently attended by 96 children.

KYAG started functional literacy classes for women working on a nearby tea estate (where two open-air schools had already been started). Responsibility for the adult literacy class has now been taken over by another local NGO.

Skill training
From its inception, KYAG was concerned about the number of young widows (many who were married to rickshaw drivers or labourers whose life expectancy is not high) left with no means of supporting themselves. A Sewing Workshop offers 30 women a six month course that will enable them to get work in a local clothing factory, or alternatively to work from home making clothes. More recently, an embroidery workshop has begun to train a few women to do more elaborate work. As the quality of the work improves it is hoped that the sale of items made in the workshop may generate an income for these women.

In the last year KYAG has launched a three month beginners' computer course. The first six students are part way through this course now.

Though the majority of KYAG's funds are spent on development work there is also a demand for welfare which simply can't be ignored. People come to the office every day because they have nothing to eat or because they are ill. Without help they are forced to choose between buying medicine and eating. Some come because a relative has died and they have no money to pay for the funeral. It's impossible not to respond to these pleas. It isn't long-term development work but the response will make the difference between life and death.

Building Bridges
KYAG is concerned with building bridges in the local community: between families that have lived in Khasdobir for generations and those who have moved to Khasdobir recently to seek work in Sylhet town and between the Muslim, Bengali people in Khasdobir and the non-Bengali, mainly Hindu, workers on the neighbouring tea estates. It has also been concerned to help women to grow in self-confidence and self-esteem. Peter East says that when he went to Khasdobir all the women were totally submissive, keeping their eyes on the ground. At his leaving party five years later, every woman came up, looked him in the eye and shook his hand. A simple, yet quite profound change had taken place. It is through these changes, which can't be measured, or expressed in statistics, that KYAG's uniqueness lies.

Find out more: A day in the life of a family in Sylet

Friends of Khasdobir, 13 Hollybush Lane, Amersham, Bucks. HP6 6EB, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)1494 433871. Email: pbrune@olcs.net

Khasdobir Youth Action Group, PO Box 118, Osmani Biman Bandar Road, Sylhet
3100, Bangladesh.